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Wednesday, September 12, 2007


(Chicago, September 12, 2007) “Doomsday” is coming to Chicago this Sunday, September 16th. Oh? You didn’t know? How could you not have known? The papers and broadcast media provide a daily sandwich board of inflammatory coverage about the “failure” of the legislature to bail out the CTA. Ride the CTA trains or buses? You will see red signs stating “insufficient state funding.” (I actually do use the CTA and read this stuff.)
Well, let me provide a little perspective. I first went to the Illinois legislature as a University of Illinois college intern in 1965. Can you guess what the main issue was? Yup. The “CTA's funding crisis.” Forty-two years on, nothing has changed except the lower standard of service provided to the public.
Is public transit a “public good,” as economists would call it? Well, yes and no. Clearly, we can’t each have our own transit system, bicycles excepted. And a complex, urban/suburban/exurban society needs ways for masses of people to go and come. Therefore, the need for mass transportation cannot be denied.
But it does not necessarily follow that the need for mass transit calls ipso facto for massive public subsidies. After all, we are the public. We are only paying the subsidies to ourselves. Or are we? Are we really subsidizing ourselves? Or are the rich taking from the poor, once again?
Let me provide two unpleasant, distinctly contrarian commentaries. As many times a week as I can get away, I use my own form of “mass transit,” and transit my mass along Lake Michigan using my bike. The sight is breathtaking. The lake is unbelievably beautiful. And the modern city that has grown up along the lake during the past half century is equally breathtaking.
In other words, there has been mass construction of luxury housing, people living closer to work and paying the very high Chicano real estate taxes. So Chicago has had an inexorable infusion of new public funds coming directly from the building boom downtown and along the lake.
Is the city any better off for this financial bonanza? Not at all. The thieves on the City council, and the Daley Family kleptocracy, keep spending the money faster than it comes it, perpetually claiming they have “deficits to close” by raising taxes. So giving local politicians more money does not mean more efficient government or more and improved service. The crooks just spend the increased revenue on themselves and their cronies.
Second, mass transit was privately owned at the turn of the last century. But businessmen were incessantly portrayed in the tabloid press as greedy and unscrupulous. They were prevented from raising fares. Politicians campaigned to “save the 5—cent fare” when costs were rising. There was a simple solution. De-privatize public transportation and make it a "public service.” Has public transit improved in the past 75 years? Not really.
A corollary scam was to create an umbrella federal “Federal Transit Administration” in the Johnson Administration, during the heyday of the “Great Society.” Why not tax Montanans and Missourians to pay for subway and bus rides in Chicago and New York? Why not, at the state level, create “mass transit authorities” to shift the bill to suburbanites? It was a great scam as long as it worked, and even though it has stopped working it still continues.
Does anyone vote for a CTA board? Is there any CTA management accountable to the public? Not at all. Only at Doomsday time. CTA management and its labor union giveaways are deeply insulated behind many, many layers of politics and politicians. And the politicians, of course, point the finger at the CTA, without confessing they created this web of intrigue and denial.
So where do we go from here? How about going backwards and opening up the discussion into new avenues of management and operation? Here are two.
First, why not consider privatizing the CTA, and turning the mess back over to private management? Put the entire package, kit and caboodle, out for bids. Deconstruct the RTA and CTA and everything between and have private mangers run the trains and buses. It’s worth a thought and service could not get any worse.
Chicago has a world class transit system between its airport and downtown. At least on paper. Tried riding the O’Hare-Loop CTA recently? It’s an embarrassment.
Second, why not turn management and control of the CTA to the Mayor of Chicago! Now that’s a prime idea. Why shouldn’t the mayor control the transit authority in his own city? Heaven forefend. Why should our transit be controlled by auslanders? My boy Richie Daley, of course, wants no such control. With control comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes accountability. Much easier to be accountable for “Taste of Chicago” food fests. The mayor might actually have to oppose CTA employee pay increases, restructure bloated pensions and find ways to make the system serve the public. Now there’s a real job for Boy Richie.
And so, ultimately. the CTA “doomsday crisis” is yet another crisis of failed leadership and public hypocrisy.
Yes, running trains and busses is not cheap. But we are unwilling as a city and as a society to pay the true costs of running a modern, efficient system so we take refuge in the escapism of “transit authorities” and federal funding, all of which ultimately come out of our own pockets after paying the "Bureaucrat’s tax” to Washington politicos.
By taking responsibility for own transit system we could shave off layers of unaccountability, and put the people of Chicago in direct control of their daily lives.
What I have said holds true equally for suburbs and exurbs. People should not be forced to work together, and to cooperate with intermediaries that are used to deny accountability and responsibility. Suburbs will need enhanced transit; let them be given control over the systems they want, and want to pay for. What is democracy if not the right to control our own lives and to decide which public services we are willing to pay for?
Why should suburbanites make decisions for Chicagoans and why should Chicagoans make decisions for the suburbs?
And, finally, tough love is always easer the further away you get from home. We are reluctant to impose tough love on our local politicians and to demand they assume control of the CTA. No, that’s too draconian. But tough love is fine when we are told by the Democrats it should be practiced in Baghdad. Get tough with those Iraqis, the Dems declare. Why not start with getting tough on ourselves?
Doomsday? CTA crisis? I was there forty-two years ago. Nothing has changed. Nothing will change until we elect bold public officials who are willing to address public problems with creative public, and sometimes private, solutions. My rallying cry? FREE THE CTA!
--------------------------Chicago-based Internet journalist, broadcaster and media critic Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of He is a chronicler of all things Midwestern and the authentic Voice of Middle America. Copyright Andy Martin 2007. Martin covers national and international events with forty years of experience. Columns also posted at; Comments? E-mail: Media contact: (866) 706-2639


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